Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Blade runner Oscar Pistorius and the Valentine murder of his lover

Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius leaves the Boschkop police station, east of Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 en route to appear in court charged with murder.
Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius leaves the Boschkop police station, east of Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 en route to appear in court charged with murder.
Oscar Pistorius after winning his gold medal at the Paralympic games in 2012
Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp

When South African police were called to an upmarket gated community in Pretoria early yesterday the address was familiar to them.

It was not the first time they had been summoned to the home of one of the world's most recognisable athletes, Oscar Pistorius, to deal with domestic disputes.

What they found this time was the dead body of his girlfriend. Reeva Steenkamp had been shot three times in the head and torso with a 9mm handgun.

As news of her death spread, so did the theory that she might have been killed as the result of a Valentine's Day surprise gone horribly wrong.

Perhaps, it was suggested, the Olympic icon had shot her by accident, thinking she was a burglar. After all, South Africa has one of the world's worst crime rates and the second-highest rate of death by shooting.

By yesterday afternoon a 26-year-old had been charged with murder. Police refused to name the Paralympian, but confirmed he was helping them with their inquiries. They also said there were no other suspects and denied that any officers were behind the burglar theory.

A resident of Silver Woods, the "security estate" where Mr Pistorius lives, said last night that video evidence handed to police showed that Ms Steenkamp arrived at the athlete's home at 8.15pm on Wednesday. Police are in possession of CCTV footage from inside the complex, given to them by the estate manager.

As the world's media gathered at Silver Woods, a police spokeswoman, Denise Beukes, appeared to scotch the accident theory entirely, suggesting that neighbours heard the couple arguing the night before. "We are talking about neighbours and people that heard things earlier in the evening and when the shooting took place," she said.

Mr Pistorius, the double amputee whose story of triumph over adversity elevated him into the ranks of sporting superstardom, and whose image has been projected on to giant screens in New York's Times Square, was seen leaving a Pretoria police station with his grey hooded top pulled up and his head bowed.

After a morning spent answering police questions, he was taken to Mamalodi hospital on the outskirts of the city to undergo standard medical tests, including DNA samples and a blood alcohol measure.

The Paralympic gold medallist is due in court today after a hearing yesterday afternoon was postponed to give forensic investigators time to carry out their work. Prosecutors made it clear they would oppose any request for bail.

As the initial case was being prepared last night, Mr Pistorius's sponsors were hastily removing his image from their billboards and television commercials. South Africa's satellite broadcaster DSTV was quickly followed by the US sporting giant Nike, which pulled a campaign featuring the sprinter under the strapline: 'I am a bullet in the chamber.'

Mr Pistorius, a noted gun enthusiast, posted pictures of himself on Twitter in November 2011 boasting of his high score at a local shooting range: "Had a 96% headshot over 300m from 50 shots! Bam!"

The runner, who last year became the first double amputee to compete in a summer Olympic Games, was known to own a 9mm handgun he had previously shown to reporters during interviews. Yesterday police recovered a 9mm pistol from the scene.

Last night police had still not released the identity of the dead woman, but Ms Steenkamp's talent management agency, Capacity Relations, named the 30-year-old model as the victim of the shooting.

When officers arrived they found paramedics trying to revive the well-known cover girl, but she died at the house.

A resident at Silver Woods said he had spoken to a nearby shopkeeper who said the model went into his store to purchase Valentine's Day gifts before visiting Mr Pistorius at home on Wednesday. Ms Steenkamp bought picture frames, among other items, and said she hoped the track star would like them, telling the shop owner: "Oscar doesn't like surprises."

Mr Pistorius's former coach, Andrea Giannini, was among those holding on to the hope that the shooting was "just a tragic accident".

Speaking in Italy, where the runner spends part of each year training, he said: "No matter how bad the situation was, Oscar always stayed calm and positive. Whenever he was tired or nervous he was still extremely nice to people. I never saw him violent."

Mr Pistorius – whose determination to overcome being born without fibulae so that he could compete with the fastest men on the planet had won him admirers all over the world – spent last night in a prison cell in South Africa's political capital.

His lawyer, Kenny Oldwage, said his client was "doing well but very emotional".

In 2008 Mr Pistorius qualified for the Beijing Games but was ruled ineligible by the world governing body because his blades were deemed to give him a competitive advantage.

He won two gold medals and a silver at last year's Paralympic Games in London.

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